Author: David Alton

Prime Minister Opposes Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide- Lobby Your MP – House of Commons will vote on September 11th 2015

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David Alton:

The Times

Assisted Living: Times editorial May 27th. The Times newspaper previously argued for assisted suicide but because of the threat to public safety has come out against new legislation:

The Times says : “The death in Switzerland of Jeffrey Spector does not strengthen the case for legalised assisted suicide in Britain. It strengthens the case for the status quo.”

Last updated at 12:01AM, May 27 2015

From all the available evidence, Jeffrey Spector was a proud and successful man with a beautiful and loving family. He had everything, in other words, to live for. Instead he chose to die, haunted by the prospect of becoming paralysed because of an inoperable tumour. It was, he insisted beforehand, “a settled decision by a sound mind”.
After years of careful thought, Mr Spector, a 54- year-old advertising executive from Blackpool, took a fatal dose of sodium pentobarbital last week in an apartment rented by the Swiss charity Dignitas. He demanded the right to end his life on his own terms. On balance it is a good thing that he was able to, albeit in Zurich rather than at home. His decision will undoubtedly reopen the debate on whether he should have been able to resort legally to assisted suicide in Britain. It would be wrong, however, if this case led to a change in British law.
Mr Spector was still in command of his faculties. He could talk and drive. Paralysis was a threat because of the tumour growing on his neck, but it was not yet a reality. The risk of legalising assisted suicide is that it plants suicide as an option in the minds of more vulnerable people where it might not otherwise have existed. Still more troubling is the possibility that such an option might come to be seen by some as a duty. Mr Spector was decisive, determined and courageous. Many gravely and terminally ill people find extraordinary courage, but few choose to express it by hastening death. Most, in the end, would prefer to be cared for. No change in the law that carried even a slight risk of increasing their distress or confusion could be considered welcome.
Under current law anyone convicted of encouraging or assisting suicide faces up to 14 years in jail. Prosecutions are in practice unlikely, but the threat has tormented some determined to end their own lives. Heartrending cases such as that of Tony Nicklinson, a sufferer of “locked-in syndrome” who starved himself to death rather than expose his family to the risk of prosecution, led to the drafting of Lord Falconer of Thoroton’s bill on assisted dying in the last parliament. The bill would have legalised assisted suicide for terminally ill patients able to make a “voluntary, clear, settled and informed” decision. It passed a reading in the House of Lords and won widespread public support but was never debated in the House of Commons.
If there were a guarantee that the Falconer bill could not be misapplied, even inadvertently, it might deserve to be revived. But there is no such guarantee. There is sometimes a fine line between physical suffering and the mental anguish of feeling oneself to be a burden on others. The line between feeling oneself to be a burden and being made to feel one can be even finer. For the severely disabled, a law that made it easier to end a difficult life could compound unimaginable distress even if that were no part of its intention. And for Alzheimer’s sufferers the impact of such a law is almost impossible to gauge. In the early stages of the disease a patient might express a voluntary and rational preference for assisted death, but who is to know if that remains the patient’s preference in the confusion of full-blown dementia?
“I am jumping the gun,” Mr Spector admitted in a final interview. His wife and three daughters had begged him not to go through with it but were with him at the end. The now familiar one-way trip to Switzerland taken by some 300 Britons is both intensely poignant and unavoidably macabre. It is part of an unsatisfactory status quo, but preferable to an alternative in which suicide becomes legally equivalent to treatment and care. The existing legal framework for assisted suicide in Britain is not perfect but it takes account of such agonies as those endured by Mr Spector’s family. It is an imperfect fudge, but a humane one, and the threshold for tampering with it should be high.

Originally posted on :

Following the recent decision of Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Parliament to vote against assisted dying, the Prime Minister has announced his opposition to the latest attempts to change the law in England.

House of Commons June 10th 2015

Fiona Bruce: Any move to legalise assisted suicide is viewed with the upmost concern by disability groups and others who fear that it could pressurise the vulnerable into making decisions that are not in their best interests. Would the Prime Minister inform the House of his view on this issue?

Prime Minister: On this issue I agree very much with my honourable friend, which is: I don’t support the assisted dying proposals that have come out of the other place, I don’t support euthanasia, I know there are imperfections and problems with the current law, but I think these can be dealt with sensitively and sensibly without having…

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Mediterranean Refugees – a human catastrophe – Action in Parliament: Question Raised about the Ertirean Refugees – including Christians facing beheadings – Tackling the Crisis At Source.

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David Alton:

Tackling the problem at source –  Eritrea, Syria: and the flow of refugees

Lord Alton of Liverpool: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea accusing Eritrea of crimes against humanity.

Minister’s reply (Baroness Anelay of St.Johns):

The Government note the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea published on 8 June. We are carefully reviewing their findings and look forward to discussion of the report at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 23 June. We are disappointed the Commission has not been granted access to Eritrea. We continue to call on the Government of Eritrea to honour its international human rights obligations and cooperate fully with the whole UN human rights system, including the Commission.

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4.21 pm June 18th 2015

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):⁠

My Lords, like other noble Lords I shall speak briefly about the long-term and the short-term questions which arise from the refugee crisis.

 

Surely, the gravity of the situation is underlined by the speeches we have already heard during the debate, but by the lethal statistics as well. Some 3,500 people have already been fished from the sea dead, with 1,800 corpses reclaimed in this year alone.

 

On Monday, I raised the situation in Eritrea. Last year, Eritrea and Syria accounted for 46% of all those fleeing over the Mediterranean. As the noble Baroness said, we have to tackle this problem at source but that is a long-term issue. What do we do in the mean time? I find it impossible to justify the 187 places for resettlement in the UK, as was just referred to, against Germany’s 30,000, the Lebanon’s 1.2 million, Turkey’s 1.8 million and Jordan’s 600,000. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will respond to the comments made by Sir Peter Sutherland, the United Nations special representative of the Secretary-General, who at the weekend rebuked us for not taking our “fair share” of refugees.

 

I hope he will say whether he has considered the requests of the Refugee Council to consider legal avenues for refugees, such as humanitarian or asylum visas, and to look at ways to reunite families.

 

I also wonder whether we have consulted with other Commonwealth countries about a more coherent international response. So yes, the European Union should be involved but the Commonwealth and the entire international community, via the United Nations, should clearly be involved as well.

 

At Prime Minister’s Questions on 3 June, the Government said that “the vast majority” of Mediterranean migrants “are not asylum seekers” to give some justification for our not taking part in the EU quota system. But that is simply not so.

 

Are we seriously saying that the UNHCR is wrong when we insist that those escaping from Eritrea or Syria are not internationally recognised refugees?

 

Those, for instance, escaping from Eritrea are leaving a country which was designated by a United Nations commission of inquiry only a week ago as a country likely to be susceptible to crimes against humanity. 

 

In Syria, let us consider the fate of the Yazidis, the Assyrian Christians and those who have been abducted by ISIS.

 

In Libya, escaping refugees have been beheaded, with another group of Eritreans having been abducted in the last few days..

 

In April, along with 12 other Peers drawn from across the divide, I signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph. We argued that creating internationally policed safe havens—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in north Africa and the Middle East—would reduce dangerous sailings. Asylum applications could be assessed and repatriation organised where appropriate. We said that it was an urgent priority. It still is.

 

The Government said that such safe havens would create magnets to encourage more people to flee from war, persecution or grinding poverty.

 

But what is the alternative strategy?

 

What exactly is our policy?

 

Should we tell fleeing refugees to stay and be killed, raped, or persecuted; tell them that they can illegally board boats that will then be blown out of the sea; tell them that if they reach Italy or Greece we will then slam our doors on them; or tell them we have no internationally agreed strategy for dealing with the immediate crisis or for resolving the conflicts which have driven them from their homes in the first place?

 

That is not moral or legal and it is not worthy of our nation.

 

4.24 pm

Eritrean Christian refugees have been abducted by ISIS and face execution
Eritrean Christian refugees have been abducted by ISIS and face execution

The following Topical Question was successful in the House of Lords ballot for a topical oral question. It was the fourth oral question asked on Tuesday 16 June 2015:

Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the UN Commission of Inquiry Report that found that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea, and of the impact of such crimes on the exodus of refugees from that country. To be answered by the Earl of Courtown (Foreign and Commonwealth Office).

Eritrea

Question: June 16th 2015e

2.59 pm

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the UN Commission of Inquiry Report that found that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea, and of the impact of such crimes on the exodus of refugees from that country.

The Earl of Courtown (Con):

My Lords, we are concerned by the commission’s findings that widespread human rights violations are being committed in Eritrea and that these may constitute crimes against humanity. We have made clear to the Government of Eritrea that they must honour their international obligations and that improved respect for human rights is required to stem the flow of irregular migration.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, does the noble Earl see the connection between crimes against humanity, which include rape, torture and extra-judicial killings, and the 300,000 Eritreans who have fled that country? We see pictures every day on our TV screens of people taking to the high seas and even facing execution by beheading by ISIS as they try to escape via Libya. Given that connection, must we not tackle this problem at the root and ensure that regimes like that of Afwerki in Eritrea are hauled before the International Criminal Court and held to account for their actions? Will the noble Earl tell us, therefore, why we have agreed a package—via the EU—of £300 million in aid to Eritrea which requires nothing to be done about these human rights violations?

The Earl of Courtown:

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. We certainly agree that a comprehensive plan is needed to tackle migration. That means greater engagement with source countries to address why migrants leave in the first place, through development aid addressing human rights abuses and tackling conflict. We have stepped up bilateral engagement with Eritrea to that end. We have also made it clear to the Government of Eritrea that they must honour their international obligations and that improved respect for human rights is needed to stem the flow of irregular migration. We keep the human rights situation in Eritrea under close scrutiny and will discuss the commission’s conclusions at the UN Human Rights Council on 23 June.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab):

My Lords, when I first visited Eritrea in 1988 during the 30-year Ethiopian-Eritrean war, people suffered terribly, as they do now. Twenty-four years after independence, the dictator Isaias Afwerki rules, and at last the UN has said, as I am sure the Minister knows, that he has a regime that runs through terror, not through law. Having presumably read the UN report, does the Minister not agree that the Eritrean tyranny is on a par with that of North Korea and should be treated accordingly by the United Kingdom and by the international community?

The Earl of Courtown:

The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, having visited that country, is certainly very aware of the terrible things that have happened there. We are deeply concerned by the commission’s report published on 8 June. We are reviewing its findings carefully and will discuss next steps with international partners at the UN Human Rights Council on 23 June. At this stage, the commission has not concluded that crimes against humanity are taking place; it has called for further investigation into whether this is the case. One problem is that the commission was not allowed into Eritrea in the first place.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD):

My Lords, there have been consistent reports of gun-running from Eritrea to Somalia, Sudan and other such places and destabilisation of some of the surrounding countries. What discussions have Her Majesty’s Government, or their European colleagues, had with the African Union about the extent to which Eritrea is actively destabilising the region?

The Earl of Courtown:

A number of meetings have been arranged between the African Union and the EU under the Khartoum process, which the noble Lord will be aware of. There will be a further meeting later in the autumn when more of these matters will be discussed.

Lord Marlesford (Con):

My Lords, now that the Prime Minister has said on 3 June that,

“we need to break the link between getting on a boat and achieving residence in Europe”,—[Official Report, Commons, 03/06/15; col. 583.]

and has called for arrangements to be made for the possibility of returning illegal immigrants to Africa, will Her Majesty’s Government start negotiations in the Security Council to get a United Nations mandate to establish in Africa—preferably somewhere in Libya—a holding area to which people can be returned and where they can be decently treated and properly assessed as to what should happen to them next?

The Earl of Courtown:

My noble friend is quite right that people should be decently treated. From what has been happening, it is obvious that they are not being decently treated. I will pass his question on the UN Security Council to the department. As I have said, we have to cut the link in Eritrea. The Eritreans have said that they will keep their national service only for 18 months. Also, all the young men—up to 200 a day—are leaving Eritrea, so the workforce is disappearing.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab):

My Lords, picking up on that point, there is evidence that national service conscripts are being deployed as labour in foreign-owned mines. Will the Minister support an ILO investigation and intervention on such claims of forced labour?

The Earl of Courtown:

As the noble Lord is aware, Eritrea is very much a closed country. I was not aware of the forced labour incidents. I will of course pass this on to the department and, if there is any more information that I can give him, I will write to him.

Lord Elton (Con):

My Lords, what has become of the last lot of Christians unfortunately intercepted by ISIL on their way to the Mediterranean?

The Earl of Courtown:

My Lords, as I understand it, ISIL has intercepted a group of Christian Eritreans. Her Majesty’s Government are aware of reports of these nationals, 86 in number, who were abducted in Libya on 3 June by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. We have no further information at this time of what is happening. We have seen appalling acts of terror inside Libya, including the targeting of others because of their faith. At the moment, there is no further information, but we will be watching closely.

Unless the international community tackles conflict, crimes against humanity and egregious human rights violations in the Middle East and Africa, the vast number of people who have been fleeing will continue, adding to the refugee crisis.  Along with Syria, the situation in Eritrea is bordering on the catastrophic (and more than 300,000 have already fled). These reports are  all from the last week:
Home Office weighs bleak UN report on rights abuses by Eritrea government:

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jun/11/uk-home-office-weighs-bleak-un-report-on-rights-abuses-by-eritrea-government

New UN report details litany of human rights violations, ‘rule by fear’ in Eritrea:
http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51085
ERITREA – LAST IN THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX FOR THE PAST EIGHT YEARS

http://en.rsf.org/eritrea-eritrea-last-in-the-world-press-11-06-2015,48001.html

Eritrea: Scathing UN Report
Commission Cites Possible Crimes Against Humanity:

http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/10/eritrea-scathing-un-report

Libya: Isis Kidnaps 86 Eritrean Christian Migrants, Sparks Beheading Fear
http://www.ibtimes.co.in/isis-libya-kidnaps-86-eritrean-christian-migrants-sparks-beheading-fear-634838

Originally posted on :

Politics Live: http://polho.me/1AKRXwv

https://twitter.com/CentralLobby/status/605681702036508672

refugees

Migration: Trafficking

Question

3.18 pm

Asked by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they and their international partners have made in deterring the trafficking of migrants and creating safe havens in North Africa and the Middle East.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con):

My Lords, since the extraordinary European Council in April, EU member states have agreed to establish a military CSDP operation to disrupt trafficking and smuggling networks. That is a considerable achievement, but we also need to address the root causes of that migration, so we are taking forward initiatives in source and transit countries. The regional development and protection programme in the Middle East is one model that we may be able to develop further.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for…

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The Plight of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims raised in Parliament and other recent questions on Burma

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Originally posted on :

Rohingya migrants stand and sit on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015.  The boat crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants -- including many young children -- was found drifting in Thai waters on May 14, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, with passengers saying several people had died over the last few days.     AFP PHOTO / Christophe ARCHAMBAULTCHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images Rohingya migrants stand and sit on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015. The boat crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants — including many young children — was found drifting in Thai waters on May 14, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, with passengers saying several people had died over the last few days. AFP PHOTO / Christophe ARCHAMBAULTCHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to Lord Alton of Liverpool’s  written parliamentary question (HL45) about the Plight of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims
Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the circumstances faced by Rohingya refugees; what action they have taken to encourage the international community to support these refugees; and, in particular, what discussions they have had with the…

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Raif Badawi – facing yet more public beating – and the right to believe or not to believe – further questsions in Parliament

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David Alton:

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they pressed for the case of Raif Badawi to be discussed at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Conference in Jeddah on 3 and 4 June; and if so, what was the response of the government of Saudi Arabia.

 Baroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative

The conference was a multilateral event hosted by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and not by Saudi Arabia, and therefore was not an appropriate forum to discuss individual Saudi Arabian legal cases. However, we are extremely concerned about Raif Badawi’s case and have discussed it at the most senior levels in the Government of Saudi Arabia, most recently on 9 June. We await the outcome of the current Saudi Arabian Supreme Court review of the case.

Originally posted on :

Raif_Badawi_cropped

Saudi Arabia: Raif Badawi

Question: Thursday June 11th 2015

11.29 am

Asked by Lord Avebury

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Saudi Arabia about the confirmation of a sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison against Raif Badawi.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, we are extremely concerned about Raif Badawi’s case and have discussed it at the most senior levels in the Government of Saudi Arabia, most recently on 9 June. The Foreign Secretary discussed this case in February and March with the Saudi Minister of the Interior, His Royal Highness Mohammad bin Naif, now Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. The case is under active consideration and we will continue to watch it closely.

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, when the first 50 lashes were administered to Mr Badawi…

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Charles Kennedy, the perils of Coalition Government – 2010 article reproduced by the Daily Telegraph – and a reflection for Tim Farron.

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Charles Kennedy, the perils of Coalition Government –  Dutch Auctions and the Flying Dutchman: 2010 article reproduced by the Daily Telegraph – and a reflection for Tim Farron.

Charles Kennedy death has reminded people of his capability and considerable political acumen. We knew each other for over thirty years – and during my time as Liberal Chief Whip I came to admire Charles’ judgement and his humanity.  When I invited him to Liverpool to deliver a Roscoe Lecture, just a year ago, we discussed why we both believed the decision of the Liberal Democrats to enter a coalition Government with the Conservatives had been such an enormous error – and why, having entered the coalition, many policies were being promoted with which we were both in profound disagreement. (Charles Kennedy’s Roscoe Lecture in Liverpool on Scottish Independence : https://www.ljmu.ac.uk/…/roscoe-lecture-ser…/audio-downloads).

When the Coalition was formed in 2010 I warned the Lib Dems that the story of the Liberal Party – of which I had been a member since the age of 17 –  contained many lessons about the dangers of entering a coalition and argued that supporting a minority government on the basis of “supply and confidence” (voting for Bills and policies on their merits without bring down the Government) but staying out of a coalition would be better for them and for the country.

Before the recent 2015 election I said that the election would reduce their House of Commons representation to around the 11 MPs that the Liberal Party had when I entered the Commons in 1979. The result  proved to be even worse than that.

Tim Farron will have his work cut out but should carefully study what the Liberal Party did from 1979 until 1987 to create the formidable Party which Charles Kennedy went on to lead. 

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Subject: 2010 article reproduced by the Daily Telegraph on the perils of Coalition for the Lib Dems

Former Liberal Chief Whip: coalition will lead to Lib Dem ‘rupture and resignations’

By Damian Thompson ⁠Politics

⁠26 Comments ⁠Comment on this article

Lord (David) Alton of Liverpool, former Liberal Chief Whip and my favourite politician by a mile, has just posted this article on his Facebook page, of all places. It’s a warning to Nick Clegg that his party didn’t enjoy much popular support, needs to show humility, and can expect dissent and resignations from Tory-hating supporters. The Lib Dem leader won’t want to hear this, but he really ought to read Alton’s piece. Even though it’s much longer than the average blog post, I reckon it’s worth carrying in full:

Although I have sat for the past 13 years as an Independent Crossbencher, I was once Liberal Chief Whip in the Commons and, in February 1974, as a 23-year-old, contested my first General Election. It was the last contest which led to a hung Parliament. I have several other reasons for following the unfolding events at Westminster with interest.

As a teenage Liberal activist I became convinced of the merits of the single transferable vote; as a City Councillor, during my time as Deputy Leader of Liverpool City Council, I had to make a minority administration function; during 18 years as an MP for a Liverpool constituency I came to value the constituency link between an MP and their constituents; and in the Lords opposed the decision of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties to introduce the closed party list system for European elections.

I have always seen merit in trying to find common ground where possible, and served as an MP during the period of the Liberal-SDP Alliance (which polled 25% in the 1983 general Election), but strongly opposed David Steel’s decision to take the Liberal Party into the Lib-Lab Pact of March 1977 – July 1978 – which seemed to be based on political calculation rather than principle. It is still difficult to recall anything that it actually achieved other than putting off the date of a General Election.

What bearing does any of this have on the formation, today, of a coalition government in Britain?

First, the unedifying procrastination of the past few days has risked discrediting the concept of power-sharing. The haggling vividly underlines the importance of going into an election with a clear idea of who will work with whom and on what basis. Much of the electorate who took part in last week’s election will have been left with a bad taste in their mouths – and whatever the merits of today’s agreement it will not have been what millions of people thought that they were voting for last week.

In that election David Cameron’s Conservative Party won the largest share of the vote; he won the largest number of seats; and won many of the arguments. Throughout, he argued for a majoritarian outcome. So did Gordon Brown. By contrast, Nick Clegg argued for a hung parliament and inevitably led the electorate on a merry dance.

It is absolutely clear that morally and constitutionally David Cameron had the right to form a Government and despite the massive economic problems facing Britain he is right to want to grapple with them. Listening to politicians saying they would rather leave it to someone else rather than risk being blamed or tarnished for taking tough decisions reveals quite a lot about their reasons for being in political life. David Cameron may fail – I hope he doesn’t – but at least he has the political courage to try.

Nick Clegg, however, has conveyed the impression or wanting to run with the hares and the hounds – and this has left many voters confused. He has some way to go to convince that the Lib-Con deal is anything but a marriage of convenience.

Clegg is a fluent Dutch speaker and has Dutch antecedents. He will be familiar with the concept of a Dutch Auction, named after its use in the seventeenth-century Dutch Tulip Craze. The Dutch Auction is often regarded as the first speculative bubble, with tulips selling at ten times the annual income of a Dutch craftsman – and is a phrase which describes a rather tacky process in which an asset price deviates significantly from intrinsic value. In a Dutch Auction the auctioneer begins with a high asking price until one of the participants is willing to accept the auctioneer’s price – or a predetermined reserve price – that is, the minimum price acceptable to the salesman – has been reached.

When you have just lost seats and many of your policies enjoy no popular mandate – from support to the Euro to the illiberal imposition of party policy on what were conscience questions, such as abortion – you should show a modicum of humility. Dutch Auctions and double-dealing are a rum way to run a country.

The former Home Secretary, and Clegg’s fellow Sheffield MP, David Blunkett, described the process rather less prosaically, by liking the Liberal Democrats to harlots selling themselves to the highest bidder.

Voters who voted Lib Dem to keep the Conservatives out will feel betrayed as will those who believed their votes would lead to the Lib-Lab Progressive Politics favoured by The Guardian and The Independent leader writers. Failure during the election campaign to lay before the electorate what would be the terms of a Liberal-Conservative or Lib-Lab Coalition left the electorate voting for a question mark. Nick Clegg’s lack of clarity during the campaign also led to a leeching away of votes and has led to a process which appears to have put party advantage to the fore.

Philosophically and ideologically the Lib Dems – since their merger with former Labour Party members – have largely abandoned classical Liberalism and opted for a social democratic paradigm of society. Many have hankered after a Lib-Lab realignment; and, in their London salons have plotted the creation of a voting system – based on the alternative vote (not single transferable votes) which would cast such realignment into stone. Indeed, some have spent their whole political lives devoted to such a project.

The prospect of a Liberal-Conservative axis genuinely never occurred to most of them, which is why it will lead to internal dissent, rupture and resignations. David Cameron has described himself as “a liberal Conservative” and those of us who have always had some sympathy with the one-nation tradition of Conservatism have warmed to his approach – but my erstwhile colleagues in the Liberal Democrats have not been among those to share that enthusiasm.

If the two parties are philosophically unlikely stable mates, the precedents do not auger particularly well either.

In the 1920s disagreements over coalition parties catastrophically ruptured the old Liberal Party.
I remember veterans of those years describing to me how coalition Ministers were shouted down at the party’s National Executive Committee – accused of being traitors. Separate parties and organisations were established. And by the 1930s there were Samuelite Liberals (supporters of Herbert Samuel and representing Asquith’s political heirs), Independent Liberals (mainly Lloyd George’s relatives) and Simonites – National Liberals, supporters of Sir John Simon who worked in coalitions with Ramsay Macdonald’s National Government and the Conservatives, becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer – and close ally of the author of appeasement, Neville Chamberlain. The National Liberals were formally absorbed into the Conservative Party in 1968 but National Liberals continued to sit in the Commons, taking the Conservative whip, until 1983. Michael Heseltine’s first electoral contest was under the Conservative and National Liberal label.

In 1931 – after 25 years as a Liberal MP – Sir John Simon had refused to support Lloyd George’s Lib-Lab pact and crossed the floor to form the National Liberals. Commenting on Simon’s memoirs (Retrospect, published in 1952) Roy Jenkins described them as “barren and bloodless” and said they “were of interest primarily because they exposed his fatal capacity to turn even his substantial if partial triumphs into antic-climatic ashes.” The journalist, George Edinger, said of Simon, “Often he would touch with his finger-tips the ivory gates and the golden – and he never got inside.” This is not entirely true as he held most high political offices – Home Secretary, Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and Lord Chancellor. But, simply gaining a seat at the Cabinet table does not necessarily imply political success or achievement – especially if your advancement breaks your party.

Jenkins, who also held high political office and broke with his party said that Simon “was often the despair of his officials, went before the Cabinet without knowing his own mind, had a solution imposed upon him by others, and, perhaps not unnaturally in the circumstances, defended it only weakly in public.”

Liberal Democrats now embarking on their new electoral dalliance with the Conservatives need to recall these precedents and recognise that expediency -based on deal making alone – rather than a genuine meeting of minds on political principles – will end in division and tears.

If we are to move to move beyond cynical Dutch Auctions and deal making, and enter an era of co-operative politics there need to be clear statements of principle, policy and electoral intent.

As for electoral reform: In 1968, aged 17, one of my first duties as chairman of my town’s branch of young Liberals was to organise a talk by the indefatigable Miss Enid Lakeman of The Electoral Reform Society. She had been sent by the Liberal Leader, Mr Grimond, to tell us why we should support a change in the voting system to single transferable votes (STV) – a proportional system which gives voters greater choice and, unlike some systems of proportional representation, retains a constituency link (albeit in larger seats).

In the Dutch Auction of the past few days a change in the voting system has been caricatured as a deal breaker. By muddling the genuine arguments which can be made for reform with cynical attempts to cobble together self serving electoral arrangements to sustain the hegemony of particular politicians, there is a grave danger that the case for reform will be lost.

David Cameron’s offer of a referendum should be welcomed – so long as a genuine debate can be held about the respective merits of first-past-the-post (FPTP), alternative votes (AV), list systems, and STV. The referendum should not be a take it or leave it question on alternative votes (which would not provide proportionality).

Single transferable votes give voters a choice of different candidates whom they can support within each party-a kind of built-in primary, without the extra expense since each party has more than one candidate, there is wider voter choice and the power to eliminate the least suitable. There is also far more scope under STV to promote candidates from such underrepresented groups as women, ethnic minorities and so on. Paradoxically, AV has the potential to be even less proportional than first past the post and, obviously, in comparison with STV, AV would still allow parties with minority support to have large majorities in the Commons.

But any change – any move to single transferable votes or alternative votes – would need to command widespread support and should not, under any circumstances – unlike the change to party lists for European elections – be steamrollered through as a last-gasp political fix or as part of a political deal. The once smoke-filled rooms of Westminster – now smoke-free but no less calculating – are not the place in which to agree fundamental constitutional change.

Britain’s democratic deficit is about a lot more than the voting system. Parliament is widely held in contempt and our elitist political culture increasingly revolves around party preferment rather than voter engagement and an over-extended belief in campaigning by electronic remote control, rather than by intimate and participatory community politics. This has militated against voter engagement and confidence in our democratic institutions.

Failure to create national consensus about political change could leave us with a worse system than the one we have at present.

So, as David Cameron said on entering Downing Street as Prime Minister, this is not going to be an easy time. Coalitions are fraught with political challenge and danger, and, as Nick Clegg and his colleagues are about to discover, a first-past-the-system is not designed to facilitate or assist the working of coalitions. Will he be able to safely steer his ship to the safer waters of a reformed voting system or be condemned, like the captain of the phantom ship, The Flying Dutchman, to sail a ship that can thereafter never go home – a fate which occurred after playing Dice for his own soul with the Devil? It’s a curse which Nick Clegg would do well to avoid  – Published May 2010 

The Plight of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims raised in Parliament and other recent questions on Burma

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Rohingya migrants stand and sit on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015.  The boat crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants -- including many young children -- was found drifting in Thai waters on May 14, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, with passengers saying several people had died over the last few days.     AFP PHOTO / Christophe ARCHAMBAULTCHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images
Rohingya migrants stand and sit on a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea on May 14, 2015. The boat crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants — including many young children — was found drifting in Thai waters on May 14, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, with passengers saying several people had died over the last few days. AFP PHOTO / Christophe ARCHAMBAULTCHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has provided the following answer to Lord Alton of Liverpool’s  written parliamentary question (HL45) about the Plight of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims
Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the circumstances faced by Rohingya refugees; what action they have taken to encourage the international community to support these refugees; and, in particular, what discussions they have had with the Burmese authorities about the challenges facing the Rohingya people. (HL45)
Tabled on: 27 May 2015
Answer:
Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
We remain deeply concerned by the situation of the Rohingya, including those in Rakhine State, and the thousands of people, including Rohingya, reported to be adrift in the Andaman Sea and Malacca Straits in desperate circumstances.
It is vital that Burma addresses the longer-term issues which lie at the root of the problem – namely the desperate conditions in which Rohingya communities are living in Rakhine state. On 18 May the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), called the Burmese Ambassador in London to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to express our concern at the situation, and press Burma to take urgent steps to deal with the humanitarian implications of the crisis, as well as the underlying causes in Rakhine State. Furthermore, on 18 May, our Ambassador in Rangoon joined EU and US Ambassadors in delivering a collective demarche to the Burmese government. We have had many similar conversations in the region and more widely, urging all those involved to work together towards a regional solution.
The UK is playing its part to resolve the dire situation in Rakhine. Since 2012, the UK has been one of the largest bilateral humanitarian donors in Rakhine State. We have invested over £18m in humanitarian support there, which helps to provide shelter; water sanitation and hygiene; nutrition and protection activities; and non-food items for over 122,000 people. We also strongly support the UN’s coordination of the international humanitarian response.
But it is also clear that this is an issue that requires a comprehensive regional response, and as such we welcomed the Thai authorities’ decision to call a regional summit on 29 May to tackle the broader issues. Our Ambassador in Bangkok attended this summit as an observer. We also very much welcome the 20 May decision from the Foreign Ministers of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, to provide humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants.
Date and time of answer: 04 Jun 2015 at 17:05.

Also see:

http://davidalton.net/2013/06/22/burma-plight-of-rohingyas-and-kachin-religious-freedom-and-coercive-population-control-policy-in-burma/

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Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

Karen Refugees
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to encourage the reversal of rations cuts for refugees from Burma in camps on the border between Thailand and Burma; and what is their current estimate of the number of men, women and children in those camps.
Hansard source
(Citation: HL Deb, 10 June 2015, cW)
Baroness Verma Conservative
The Department for International Development engages regularly with other OECD donors on assistance to the refugees from Burma in camps on the border between Thailand and Burma, and convened a donor conference with The Border Consortium (TBC) in April 2015, partly with the aim of encouraging other donors to maintain appropriate support to TBC. DFID approved a renewed project for conflict affected people from October 2012 to November 2015, totalling over £27million. This project includes our support to the refugees for food, shelter and other relief items. In March 2015 DFID agreed a £6.67m additional cost extension for the project to January 2017.

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Philip Blackwood

Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assistance they are providing Philip Blackwood, who is imprisoned in Burma.
Hansard source
(Citation: HL Deb, 10 June 2015, cW)

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative
The New Zealand Embassy in Burma is leading on providing consular assistance to Mr Blackwood as he travelled to Burma on his New Zealand passport. They have been in contact with his family who are resident in New Zealand.

Our Embassy in Rangoon has provided advice and support to the New Zealand Embassy on Mr Blackwood’s case and we will continue to discuss with them what further assistance we can provide. We have raised the case with the Burmese authorities and made them aware of our interest in Mr Blackwood’s welfare.

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Mediterranean Refugees – a human catastrophe – Question in Parliament

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Politics Live: http://polho.me/1AKRXwv

https://twitter.com/CentralLobby/status/605681702036508672

refugees

Migration: Trafficking

Question

3.18 pm

Asked by

Lord Alton of Liverpool

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they and their international partners have made in deterring the trafficking of migrants and creating safe havens in North Africa and the Middle East.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con):

My Lords, since the extraordinary European Council in April, EU member states have agreed to establish a military CSDP operation to disrupt trafficking and smuggling networks. That is a considerable achievement, but we also need to address the root causes of that migration, so we are taking forward initiatives in source and transit countries. The regional development and protection programme in the Middle East is one model that we may be able to develop further.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Does not the news that HMS “Bulwark” rescued 741 migrants on Saturday; that more than 4,200 migrants, including young children, were rescued on Friday; that more dead bodies were added to the 1,800 corpses recovered this year; and that new people-smuggling routes are being opened to Greece, underline the scale of this human catastrophe? Against that backdrop, do the Government support the creation of safe havens? Do they support last week’s calls from the European Union for relocation and resettlement plans, and how do we justify the pitiful 187 places provided in the United Kingdom against Germany’s 30,000 places and Lebanon’s 1.2 million? Are we any nearer to ending the causes of this exodus from hellholes such as Libya and Syria, to which the noble Baroness referred a moment ago?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

My Lords, there were several crucial questions there, and I know that we will have the opportunity to develop them further in short debates. There has to be no doubt that this is a human catastrophe, caused by those who are making billions out of illegal trafficking and smuggling individuals. It is important that the policies that we adopt deal, first, with the humanitarian approach, which is what “HMS Bulwark” is involved in—and, secondly, breaks that link between travelling on the boat to get here and the certainty of getting settled. If we can do that, we can break the smugglers’ grip on these people, for whose lives they care nothing. That is the link that we must break. So it is important to provide some humanitarian way in which to give hope to those who are travelling that they can go back, or have safety where they are in north Africa, but let them understand that there will not be settlement here. As I said on Thursday, if we offer settlement to 1,000 people, what do you say to the 1,001st person? Do you say, “No, our door is closed.”?

Lord Boateng (Lab):

My Lords, these traffickers and their wicked agents operate with almost complete immunity within sub-Saharan Africa. The EU and AU have a strategic partnership. What steps are being taken within the security, intelligence and law enforcement pillar of that partnership to tackle this problem at source and gain the co-operation of African Governments in a law enforcement measure to protect the people of Africa from this wicked trade? Yes, the terrible scenes that we see on the front pages of our newspapers and in our media are a reproach; they are a reproach to Europe but they are a reproach to African Governments, too.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

I agree entirely with the facts and sentiments of the noble Lord. He refers to the Khartoum process, the EU-African Union process, which seeks to provide stability and disrupt these appalling traffickers and smugglers and their networks. We certainly give all our support to that, both in front of and behind the scenes. With regard to the work that we are doing beyond “HMS Bulwark”, joint intelligence activity seeks to find out from those making these hazardous journeys more information that can help us to provide a focused answer to how we disrupt those networks. But disrupting the networks can happen only after we have got agreement with Libya and the United Nations Security Council resolution. It is a priority that we do that.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich:

My Lords, what will become of the refugees and migrants who are trapped in Libya? Since neighbouring countries have closed their borders and current plans are to sink the boats that are smuggling people from Libya, are these refugees and migrants simply consigned to certain abuse and death? Can we do nothing at all to help them?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

My Lords, it is clear that we must focus our work on being able to provide some form of humanitarian effort. As I said in my original Answer, we are seeing whether we can use the example of the systems that we have in place in Syria to be able to provide that kind of haven—not a haven from which people then move across the Mediterranean, on that hazardous journey, with an uncertain future, but one where perhaps they can have some education and training towards employment, so that they can have a future, which is what all of us deserve.

Lord Marlesford (Con):

My Lords—

Lord Avebury (LD):

My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con):

Order! I think that we are still getting used to taking turns now that we are in a new Parliament and we are sitting in different places. May I suggest that my noble friend Lord Marlesford has an opportunity to ask a question on this occasion?

Lord Marlesford:

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is more efficient and practical to assess the claims of would-be migrants, whether on the grounds of asylum, refugee status, economic migration or merely, understandably, that of wanting a better life, before they arrive in Europe? Assessing claims and then removing those who have no valid claim is almost impossible once they have arrived in Europe, which therefore means that those who have the greatest claim do not get permission to stay. Would it not therefore be better that those who are rightly rescued from peril on the sea are returned to the mainland from which they came?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns:

My Lords, it is a matter of fact that asylum claims may only be processed and granted once people have reached the United Kingdom. That is how our legislation lies. There is a danger that if one has processing areas—I hate the word “processing”, but noble Lords know what I mean—for asylum across the north African shore, say, those areas would act as a magnet in persuading people to go there. The most important thing is to disrupt the smuggling and trafficking networks to get at this business model which has no moral authority.

My question on the plight of refugees fleeing the hell holes of North Africa and the Middle East was set against the news that over the previous weekend HMS Bulwark rescued 741 fleeing migrants on one day alone; that a day earlier ships from Italy, Ireland, Germany, the UK and Belgium rescued more than 4,200 people, including very young children; that more dead bodies were added to the 1800 corpses recovered already this year – and that new people smuggling routes are being opened to Greece. All of which underlines the scale of this human catastrophe.

Since January more than 35,000 migrants have reached Europe – and who can forget the harrowing images of those who didn’t make it – like the hundreds who died in April when their fishing boat capsized?

As the European Union wrestles with this crisis I cannot be alone in wanting to hear the British Government say it will do more than simply opt out of the relocation plan and that it may opt out of the resettlement plan too.

I was disappointed by the Government’s insistence that either by creating protected havens in the region, where safe and legal routes to asylum destinations may be determined, or by accepting more escaping families, we will create magnets to encourage more people to flee from war, persecution or grinding poverty.

Ministers say “we must tackle the root causes” – and we agree – but in the meantime people are on the high seas or trying to get out of hell holes like Syria and Libya.   

Are we really comfortable in slamming our doors – not on economic migrants but the casualties of violent conflict?

How do we justify the pitiful 187 places for resettlement provided in the UK against Germany’s 30,000 or Lebanon’s 1.2 million, Turkey’s 1.8 million and Jordan’s 600,000?

We have a clear duty to relieve some of the pressure on these countries and remove a substantial source of what has become a highly lucrative market sustaining sophisticated, organised people smuggling networks.

By far the largest group by nationality attempting the Mediterranean crossing are Syrian nationals.

The EU border agency  has reported that in 2014, Syrians and Eritreans made up 46% of all those making the crossing.

And what of those who have made it to Libya?

As the Bishop of Norwich asked during our House of Lords exchanges, what will become of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya, which is a country in a state of chaos and where refugees and migrants are particularly exposed to appalling abuses, if current plans to sink boats to end people smuggling out of Libya are followed through?

Amnesty International has already reported on the targeting of refugees and migrants in Libya, where abuses have included kidnapping, torture, rape and executions as well as widespread violence directed at foreigners; and the closing of borders. Are we going to simply leave them there to accept this fate?

In April, along with twelve other Peers – drawn from across the political divide – I signed a letter to The Daily Telegraph in which we compared our response to this human catastrophe with our reaction to  the plight of the Vietnamese boat people, when the international community rightly recognised that it had a moral and legal duty to act.

We argued interviewing migrants in North Africa could reduce dangerous sailings; that an internationally policed safe-haven in North Africa, where asylum applications could be assessed and repatriation organised where appropriate, was an urgent priority. It remains so. 

We said that the exodus of desperate men, women and children had been driven by wars and conflicts like those in Syria and Libya and by the destitution, grinding poverty and violence engulfing countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Nigeria – a point which Lord Boatang emphasised in his intervention on my question. Yes” he said, “the terrible scenes that we see on the front pages of our newspapers and in our media are a reproach; they are a reproach to Europe but they are a reproach to African Governments, too.”

Clearly, long-term steps must be taken to make peace and prosperity in the Middle East and in Africa.

None of this, however, reduces the need for immediate lifesaving – and the urgent need for the international community to thrash out a coherent strategy.

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Recent Parliamentary Questions and Written Ministerial Statements (from a House of Lords Library note):
 Middle East and North Africa: Refugees
Asked by: Lord Alton of Liverpool | Party: Crossbench
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many migrants from the Middle East or North Africa are thought to have died in the past 12 months; how many are being held within the European Union; what progress is being made in deterring human traffickers from exploiting and endangering such migrants; and what are their short- and long-term policies regarding such migrants.
Answering member: Baroness Anelay of St Johns | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 3,500 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2014. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that by the end of April, over 1,700 migrants had died crossing the Mediterranean this year. The numbers of illegal migrants detected entering the EU sea border in 2014 was 220,000, of which about 170,000 crossed the Central Mediterranean.
At the Extraordinary European Council in April, EU Member States agreed to establish a military Common Security and Defence Policy operation to disrupt trafficking and smuggling networks. We are working with EU partners to address long-term flows through initiatives in source and transit countries to address the underlying causes. We are increasing our work in and with transit countries to ensure migrants are protected, smuggling networks are closed down, that border management is improved, and to ensure that there is increased awareness of the risks of attempting a perilous journey to reach Europe.
09 Jun 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | HL47
Date tabled: 27 May 2015 | Date for answer: 10 Jun 2015 | Date answered: 09 Jun 2015
Statistics: yes | Subject: Death; Human trafficking; Refugees; Middle East; EU immigration; North Africa
 Africa: Refugees
Asked by: Lord Boateng | Party: Labour Party
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps the European Union has taken to ensure that its strategic partners in Africa (1) warn their citizens of the dangers of making trans-Saharan and Mediterranean voyages for the purposes of irregular migration, (2) deter those seeking to embark on such a journey, and (3) strengthen law enforcement against human trafficking in such migrants’ countries of origin; and what position they have taken in discussions with other European Union member states regarding such steps.
Answering member: Baroness Anelay of St Johns | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
We believe it is essential to have a comprehensive approach to deal with irregular migration. This should involve work in source and transit countries to ensure migrants are protected, smuggling networks are closed down, that border management is improved, and to ensure that there is increased awareness of the risks of attempting a perilous journey to reach Europe. We are working with EU partners to ensure these elements are included in the EU’s response to tackling the problems in the Mediterranean. For example, we are members of the Core Group of the Khartoum Process, an EU- African Union initiative to tackle trafficking and smuggling of migrants between the Horn of Africa and Europe.
09 Jun 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | HL213
Date tabled: 02 Jun 2015 | Date for answer: 16 Jun 2015 | Date answered: 09 Jun 2015
Subject: Africa; Human trafficking; EU action; Refugees
 Israeli Settlements
Asked by: Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab) | Party: Labour Party
As more and more people try to make the perilous boat journey across the Mediterranean, the dedicated men and women of HMS Bulwark are having to rescue an ever-increasing number of desperate people in very difficult circumstances. Given that about half a million people are now gathering
in Libya, does the Foreign Secretary think that there is currently sufficient capacity in the EU maritime force to cope with this crisis?
Oral questions – Supplementary
Answering member: Mr Philip Hammond | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
First, let me join the right hon. Gentleman in recognising the heroic work that the crew of HMS Bulwark, in particular, are doing. They have just landed another 1,200 migrants, bringing to well over 2,000 the total number of people plucked from the sea by that one single vessel. I think the best criterion by which to judge the answer to his question is the number of deaths, and, although we cannot be certain, we believe that since the naval force has been deployed in the Mediterranean the number of migrants’ lives being lost at sea has declined to close to zero. I think that means that the scale of the operation is, for the moment, adequate.
09 Jun 2015 | Oral answers to questions | House of Commons | House of Commons chamber | 596 c1039
Date answered: 09 Jun 2015
Subject: Demolition; Housing; West Bank
 Topical Questions
Asked by: Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con) | Party: Conservative Party
What military assistance is being provided by the Department in the Mediterranean and north Africa to help with humanitarian disasters?
Oral questions – 1st Supplementary
Answering member: Michael Fallon | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Defence
HMS Bulwark and three Merlin helicopters are conducting search and rescue in the Mediterranean. To date, they have rescued 2,909 migrants from the sea. I hope the whole House will pay tribute to the professionalism and bravery of those involved in this extraordinarily large rescue mission. As well as rescuing those at sea, we now need to address this problem further back by tackling the trafficking gangs who are making money out of this misery and discouraging people from leaving their countries to make this long and very dangerous journey.
08 Jun 2015 | Oral answers to questions | House of Commons | House of Commons chamber | 596 c904
Date answered: 08 Jun 2015
 HMS Bulwark
Asked by: Shannon, Jim | Party: Democratic Unionist Party
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what the cost to his Department is of HMS Bulwark rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.
Answering member: Penny Mordaunt | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Ministry of Defence
The Ministry of Defence is contributing to an international search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean to rescue migrants, of which HMS Bulwark is providing an essential part. The additional costs of using military assets in support of this international assistance effort are to be borne by the UK Aid budget, as it is eligible as Official Development Assistance, and as such there will be no additional costs attributable to Defence for the use of HMS Bulwark.
04 Jun 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 681
Date tabled: 01 Jun 2015 | Date for answer: 04 Jun 2015 | Date answered: 04 Jun 2015
Subject: Refugees; Mediterranean Sea; HMS Bulwark
 Illegal Migration
Asked by: Mr Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op) | Party: Labour Party · Cooperative Party
May I begin by welcoming the Secretary of State back to her post and welcoming the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) to his new post? We look forward to working constructively with the Secretary of State in this very important year for development.
We welcome the reintroduction of search and rescue in the Mediterranean—it was a shameful decision to withdraw it, and the Prime Minister was right to make a U-turn—but we know that the most vulnerable Syrian migrants will not make it to a boat, or get here on a plane; they will die in a camp. Given that the whole world community has come together to relocate those most vulnerable people through the UN, why does the Secretary of State insist on running her own scheme?
Answered by: Justine Greening | Party: Conservative Party | Department: International Development
We are working collaboratively with the UNHCR. In fact, we have helped just under 200 people through that scheme. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that, through the asylum system, we have received 4,000 asylum applications from Syrians. Critically, what this all shows is that we need to support people where they are. Some 99% of the refugees from the Syrian crisis are still in the countries that border Syria, and the UK has put £800 million into helping them build their lives there and educating their children.
03 Jun 2015 | Oral questions – Supplementary | Answered | House of Commons | House of Commons chamber | 596 c574
Date answered: 03 Jun 2015
Subject: Refugees; Mediterranean Sea
 Illegal Migration
Asked by: Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP) | Party: Scottish National Party
Can we see illegal migrants to Europe first and foremost as human beings and give them all the dignity, care and respect we can, especially by ensuring the availability of rescue facilities as they cross the Mediterranean?
Answered by: Justine Greening | Party: Conservative Party | Department: International Development
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to see the people behind many of the statistics that we read in the paper. That is one reason why we sent HMS Bulwark and Merlin helicopters—so that this country can play our role in providing
search and rescue services to help those people. They are literally putting their lives on the line to get a better life, and we should never forget the stories of the people behind those terrible numbers.
03 Jun 2015 | Oral questions – Supplementary | Answered | House of Commons | House of Commons chamber | 596 c574
Date answered: 03 Jun 2015
Subject: Refugees; Mediterranean Sea
 Foreign Affairs Council, Foreign Affairs Council (Defence) and General Affairs Council: 18 – 19 May
My Right Honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond) attended the Foreign Affairs Council, and My Right Honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Michael Fallon) attended the Foreign Affairs Council (Defence), and they both attended a joint session with Foreign and Defence Ministers. I attended the General Affairs Council (GAC). The Foreign Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council (Defence) were chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the General Affairs Council was chaired by the Latvian Presidency.
Foreign Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council (Defence)
A provisional report of the meeting and Conclusions adopted can be found at:
http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/fac/2015/05/18/
Foreign Affairs Council (Defence) & European Defence Agency (EDA)
The EDA Ministerial Steering Board discussion focussed on preparations for the June European Council. The Defence Secretary welcomed the work that the EDA has done in delivering the major programmes agreed to at the December 2013 European Council and encouraged the Agency to remain focused on delivering progress on these programmes at the June Council. Ministers also endorsed the Small Medium Enterprise (SME) action plan.
Defence Ministers discussed CSDP Missions and Operations in the Foreign Affairs Council (Defence), where greater political will by Member States in force generation and increased EU-NATO co-operation were highlighted as being key to success. The Defence Secretary reaffirmed the UK’s support for the counter piracy operation EUNAVFOR ATALANTA and highlighted that a combination of Naval forces and development of best management practice by industry and private contractors remained important in order to suppress the pirates’ business model. The Defence Secretary also emphasised the UK’s continued commitment to the maintenance of the Executive Mandate for EUFOR ALTHEA. This mandate was an essential international safeguard against a return to violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Joint Meeting of Foreign Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council (Defence)
Over lunch, EU defence and foreign ministers exchanged views on the security in the EU’s broader neighbourhood with NATO Security General Jens Stoltenberg. Ministers then discussed the preparations for the European Council in June 2015, which cover the Common Security and Defence Policy, and debated ongoing work reviewing changes in the EU’s strategic environment, including the preparation of a report by the High Representative to the European Council on 25/26 June. The Foreign Secretary noted that the June European Council should be a stocktake of the work begun in December 2013 and highlighted the importance of the EU’s cooperation with NATO.
The Council then took stock of the follow-up to the European Council of 23 April, which focused on migration issues. It approved a crisis management concept for a possible EU military operation and established an EU naval operation to disrupt the business model of human smugglers in the Southern Central Mediterranean. The Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary spoke in support of the establishment of the operation, but, noted that prior to its launch, clarity would be required on the handling of migrants rescued, smugglers apprehended, and the necessary legal base for the operation would need to be established. All four phases (surveillance/intelligence; seizure of vessels on the high seas; seizure and potentially destruction in Libyan waters/ashore; and withdrawal) needed to be enactable. A number of Ministers set out their position on resettlement and relocation, including the Foreign Secretary who made clear the UK would not accept compulsory resettlement.
Foreign Affairs Council
– Middle East Peace Process (MEPP)
Ministers exchanged views on the situation in the Middle East and on prospects for the peace process, following the formation of a new Israeli government and ahead of a visit of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to the region. Ms. Mogherini would be accompanied by Fernando Gentilini, the newly appointed EU Special Representative for the MEPP. The Foreign Secretary recognised the widespread frustration on the MEPP and argued that the EU should keep in step with the US and that there would likely be no progress until the Iran nuclear talks ended.
– Other Items
Ministers agreed a number of other measures:
o The Council adopted Conclusions on Burundi;
o The Council adopted Conclusions on the Common Security and Defence Policy;
o The Council adopted the EU position for the twelfth meeting of the EU-Uzbekistan Cooperation in Brussels on 18 May; and
o The Council adopted the draft agenda for the EU-Gulf Cooperation Council Joint Council and ministerial meeting, to be held on 24 May 2015 in Doha.
General Affairs Council
A provisional report of the Council meeting can be found at:
http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/gac/2015/05/19/
The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 19 May focused on: follow-up to the April Emergency European Council; preparation of the June European Council; and the Four Presidents’ Report on economic governance in the euro area.
Follow-up to the April Emergency European Council on migration
The Latvian Presidency and European Commission updated the GAC on developments since the 23 April Emergency European Council discussed migration pressures in the Mediterranean.
I reiterated the points made by the Foreign Secretary at the Foreign Affairs Council and informed Members States about UK activities to help prevent further loss of life in the Mediterranean. I emphasised the importance of addressing the causes of illegal immigration and tackling the organised criminals behind it, and the need for the EU to focus on the longer term picture.
Preparation of the June European Council
The GAC began preparations for the 23 and 24 June European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. The June European Council will focus on security and economic issues including: defence and the European Security Strategy; relations with Russia and Ukraine; follow-up of the February European Council on terrorism and April European Council on migration; the digital single market; the 2015 European Semester; TTIP; and economic governance in the euro area.
Four Presidents’ Report on economic governance in the euro area
The European Commission updated the GAC on preparations of the Four Presidents’ Report on the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) to be presented to the June European Council.
01 Jun 2015 | Written statements | House of Commons | HCWS6
Member: Mr David Lidington
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Topic: EU external relations; EU Council of Ministers; EU defence policy | Subject: Human trafficking; EU common foreign and security policy; EU action; Economic and monetary union; Piracy; Israel; Palestinians; Middle East; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Peace negotiations; EU immigration; EU defence policy; EU Foreign Affairs Council; European Defence Agency; EU General Affairs Council; Mediterranean Sea
 Mediterranean Sea
Asked by: Lord Hylton | Party: Crossbench
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to discuss with UNICEF the content of its recent statement on the risks to children who attempt to cross the Mediterranean in order to reach Europe.
Answering member: Lord Bates | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Home Office
The Government is determined to do all it can with international partners, including UN agencies, to reduce the flow of illegal migrants attempting these perilous crossings and to combat the organised criminals who are making huge profits by exploiting vulnerable people. The presence of children on these voyages is a matter of particular concern. We are taking action at a national and international level to find sustainable solutions, for example through regional protection initiatives and the new Khartoum Process, a joint EU and African Union initiative supporting dialogue and concrete cooperation to tackle people smuggling and human trafficking in the Horn of Africa, including measures to address the abuse and exploitation of children and other vulnerable migrants. The Government also welcomes joint EU efforts to provide concrete support to Italy to assist that country in meeting its responsibilities towards those arriving on its shores, and the EU’s intention to enhance efforts to address the root causes of the situation under its forthcoming European Agenda on Migration.
24 Mar 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | HL5804
Date tabled: 17 Mar 2015 | Date for answer: 31 Mar 2015 | Date answered: 24 Mar 2015
Subject: Children; Refugees; EU immigration; UNICEF; Mediterranean Sea
 Mediterranean Sea
Asked by: Lord Hylton | Party: Crossbench
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many vessels, aircraft and drones are available for Operation Triton; and what assessment they have made of their adequacy to cope with current flows of migrants.
Answering member: Lord Bates | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Home Office
Frontex has recently reported that the technical resources provided by the Member States to Operation Triton include: 2 Fixed Wing Aircraft, 1 Helicopter, 2 Open Shore Patrol Vessels, 6 Coastal Patrol Vessels and 1 Coast Patrol Boat. We understand that this provision of technical resource fully meets the request made to Frontex for assistance by Italy, the host state of this Operation.
To date, Operation Triton has intercepted thousands of migrants in the Central Mediterranean, both directly and through cooperation with Italy’s national search and rescue efforts, bringing those intercepted safely to the EU. While the UK is not able to join Frontex, we continue to support Operation Triton through the deployment of UK experts. To date we have met all Frontex requests, and made clear our willingness to consider any further requests for support of this kind. The recent deaths in the Mediterranean are a further tragic reminder of the great risks migrants take when they attempt the perilous journey to reach Europe across the Mediterranean. Like our counterparts across the European Union, the UK wishes to find the best way to prevent tragedies of this kind. Unfortunately, in the open sea, no amount of vessels and surveillance can ensure a safe passage.
24 Mar 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | HL5803
Date tabled: 17 Mar 2015 | Date for answer: 31 Mar 2015 | Date answered: 24 Mar 2015
Statistics: yes | Subject: Aircraft; Refugees; EU immigration; Frontex; Unmanned air vehicles; Patrol craft; Mediterranean Sea
 Mediterranean Sea
Asked by: Farron, Tim | Party: Liberal Democrats
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what her estimate is of the number of deaths amongst refugees in the Mediterranean in the first two months of (a) 2015, (b) 2014 and (c) 2013.
Answering member: James Brokenshire | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Home Office
The Government has not made an estimate as to the number of people who have drowned attempting the crossing in these periods. All deaths of this nature are a matter of extreme regret and the Government is determined to do all it can with international partners to reduce the flow of illegal migrants taking such risks and to combat the organised criminals who are making huge profits by exploiting vulnerable people. The Government is taking action at a national and international level to find sustainable solutions, for example through regional protection initiatives and the new Khartoum Process, a joint EU and African Union initiative supporting dialogue and concrete cooperation to tackle people smuggling and human trafficking in the Horn of Africa.
17 Mar 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 227065
Date tabled: 10 Mar 2015 | Date for answer: 16 Mar 2015 | Date of holding answer: 16 Mar 2015 | Date answered: 17 Mar 2015
Transferred: yes | Holding answer: yes
Statistics: yes | Subject: Asylum; Death; Illegal immigrants; Mediterranean Sea
 Mediterranean Sea
Asked by: Lord Alton of Liverpool | Party: Crossbench
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many migrants they estimate to have died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea during the past year; from which countries they have been travelling; and what measures are being taken to discuss their situation with the United Kingdom’s international partners.
Answering member: Lord Bates | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Home Office
The majority of migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean in the past year are reported to have travelled from countries in Africa and from the Middle East. The Government has not made an estimate as to the number of people who have drowned attempting the crossing in that period, as such estimates are extremely difficult to make with any degree of certainty.
All deaths of this nature are a matter of extreme regret and the Government is determined to do all it can with international partners to reduce the flow of illegal migrants taking such risks and to combat the organised criminals who are making huge profits by exploiting vulnerable people. The Government is taking action at a national and international level to find sustainable solutions, for example through regional protection initiatives and the new Khartoum Process, a joint EU and African Union initiative supporting dialogue and concrete cooperation to tackle people smuggling and human trafficking in the Horn of Africa. The situation is also discussed regularly by Ministers at the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council, as well as in other multilateral and bilateral meetings.
16 Mar 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | HL5508
Date tabled: 09 Mar 2015 | Date for answer: 23 Mar 2015 | Date answered: 16 Mar 2015
Statistics: yes | Subject: Refugees; EU immigration; Drownings; Mediterranean Sea
 Mediterranean Sea
Asked by: Farron, Tim | Party: Liberal Democrats
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what estimate her Department has made of the number of migrants who have drowned in the Mediterranean since the end of Operation Mare Nostrum and the start of Operation Triton.
Answering member: James Brokenshire | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Home Office
Operation Triton began on 1 November 2014 following unanimous calls from all 28 EU Member States that Italy’s Operation Mare Nostrum should be phased out. There have been no estimates made by the Government or by Frontex (the EU External Border Agency) with regard to the number of people who have drowned in the Mediterranean since the end of Operation Mare Nostrum and the start of Operation Triton as such estimates would be extremely difficult to make with any degree of certainty. All deaths of this nature are, of course, utterly tragic and the Government is determined to do all it can with international partners to reduce the flow of illegal migrants taking such risks and to combat the organised criminals who are making huge profits by exploiting vulnerable people.
10 Mar 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 226037
Date tabled: 03 Mar 2015 | Date for answer: 06 Mar 2015 | Date of holding answer: 06 Mar 2015 | Date answered: 10 Mar 2015
Transferred: yes | Holding answer: yes
Statistics: yes | Subject: Illegal immigrants; Drownings; Mediterranean Sea
 Mediterranean Sea
Asked by: Lord Hylton | Party: Crossbench
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the statement by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees that a robust search and rescue operation is necessary in order to save lives in the central Mediterranean.
Answering member: Lord Bates | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Home Office
The number of deaths in the Mediterranean, and on the land routes from the Horn of Africa to the Southern Mediterranean, are a tragic reminder of the great risks migrants take when they attempt the perilous journey to reach Europe.
The Government believes that the best approach lies in the continuation of Frontex (EU external border agency) Operation Triton alongside Italy’s ongoing coordination of normal search and rescue activities. Frontex has been clear that its maritime operations will assist with individual search and rescue efforts in their operational areas if called upon to do so by national search and rescue coordinators.
At the same time, the UK is continuing work with other EU countries to tackle the causes of illegal immigration and the organised trafficking gangs behind it, as well as increasing support and protection for those who need it in North and East Africa. It is action of this kind which offers the best hope of an effective response to the numbers of attempted crossings and the tragic loss of lives.
02 Mar 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | HL5156
Date tabled: 23 Feb 2015 | Date for answer: 09 Mar 2015 | Date answered: 02 Mar 2015
Subject: Refugees; Rescue services; Drownings; Mediterranean Sea
 Engagements
Asked by: Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab) | Party: Labour Party
Last year, more than 3,000 desperate migrants drowned in the Mediterranean. Several hundred have already died this year trying to reach a place of safety. Many people, in absolute desperation, turn to traffickers to try to escape the crisis in Libya and in many other places. They are victims of war and oppression. The European Union is closing down Mare Nostrum, which has saved a very large number of lives, and is instead instituting something that will only protect Europe’s borders, not search for and rescue people. Will the Prime Minister go back and ensure that Europe adopts a humanitarian approach of saving these desperate people and supporting these desperate migrants who are trying to survive—that is all, survive—in Libya?
Answered by: The Prime Minister | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, but I am afraid that the statistics do not necessarily back up the case he is making. Mare Nostrum was a genuine attempt by the Italians to deal with this problem, but I think I am right in saying that more people died during the operation of that policy than when it was brought to an end. There are some answers. We need to make sure we press ahead with the Modern Slavery Bill, an historic piece of legislation taken through by this Government, that is doing a huge amount to deal with the problem of people trafficking. Yes, we need to do more to stabilise countries such as Libya and others on the Mediterranean, from which many of the problems derive. That serves to underline the important work done by our development budget.
25 Feb 2015 | Oral questions – Supplementary | Answered | House of Commons | House of Commons chamber | 593 c317
Date answered: 25 Feb 2015
Subject: EU action; Refugees; Rescue services; Libya; Drownings; Mediterranean Sea
 Mediterranean Sea
Asked by: Lord Hylton | Party: Crossbench
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the ability of Operation Triton to save the lives of those at risk in the Mediterranean; and what proposals they will make to assist Spain, Italy and Greece in dealing with the flow of migrants and refugees.
Answering member: Lord Bates | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Home Office
The EU’s external border agency, Frontex, has stated that since the launch of Operation Triton in November 2014 they helped to save 6,000 migrants on their way to Italy. The UK has responded positively to requests from Frontex to deploy two debriefers and a nationality expert to support Operation Triton, with further support committed for 2015. We have made clear that we are willing to consider any further requests from Frontex for UK support. The recent deaths are a tragic reminder of the great risks to migrants attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean in unseaworthy and ill-equipped vessels. During Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation in 2014 many thousands of migrants were intercepted and brought to Italy, but over 3,000 died at sea. While EU Ministers have previously agreed that the principal responsibility for migrants and refugees rests with the Member State whose territory they arrive in, the Government continues to provide concrete support to those Member States under particular pressure both through the EU agencies and directly. We are also investing in joint EU efforts to mitigate pressures on these Member States through work in key countries of origin and transit, including efforts to tackle the root causes of these dangerous journeys and the organised criminal gangs behind them, and to increase support for protection for refugees in North and East Africa and in the Middle East.
In particular we are we are playing a leading role in the new ‘Khartoum Process’ launched at a Ministerial Conference in Rome on 28 November, aimed at combating people smuggling and human trafficking in the Horn of Africa. We are also supporting the EU’s Middle East Regional Development and Protection Programme, which is seeking sustainable regional solutions for those fleeing the Syrian crisis, as well as providing over £700 Million in UK humanitarian aid.
24 Feb 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | HL5024
Date tabled: 12 Feb 2015 | Date for answer: 26 Feb 2015 | Date answered: 24 Feb 2015
Subject: Greece; Refugees; Rescue services; Italy; Spain; Mediterranean Sea
 Asylum: Syria
Asked by: Lord Alton of Liverpool | Party: Crossbench
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the reasons why Syrian refugees are crossing the Mediterranean Sea in order to seek asylum in European Union member states.
Answering member: Lord Bates | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Home Office
The majority of refugees displaced from Syria, an estimated 3.8 million people, remain in countries neighbouring Syria. That is why the Government has committed £700 million to the emergency response in the region, the second largest bilateral contribution after the USA, helping hundreds of thousands of people in need. We have not undertaken a formal assessment of the motivation for Syrian migrants to try to reach the European Union, or the routes they choose to get here. However, given the scale of the crisis in Syria and the hardship and human suffering it has caused, it is to be expected that some Syrians will seek to leave the region by whatever routes are available.
With millions of people in need in Syria and the region, the Government believes that humanitarian aid and actively seeking to end the conflict are the most effective ways for the UK to help the majority of those displaced, rather than larger scale resettlement. We have made our position on this clear in relevant discussions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), for example at the UNHCR Global Resettlement Pledging Conference in Geneva on 9 December 2014. We also liaise regularly with the UNHCR at a working level about the relocation of particularly vulnerable displaced Syrians to the UK under the UK’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme.
09 Feb 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | HL4592
Date tabled: 02 Feb 2015 | Date for answer: 16 Feb 2015 | Date answered: 09 Feb 2015
Subject: Asylum; Refugees; Syria; EU immigration; Mediterranean Sea